Diane di Prima Analysis

Other literary forms

(Poets and Poetry in America)

Although Diane di Prima (dee PREE-muh) is best known for her poetry, she has published more than twenty volumes of poetry and prose and has written and produced a substantial number of plays. She is the author of two prose memoirs, the highly erotic novel-memoir Memoirs of a Beatnik (1969, 1988), which contributed significantly to making her the most widely known woman poet of the Beat generation, and Recollections of My Life as a Woman: The New York Years, a Memoir (2001), a remembrance of her growing feminist consciousness in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Di Prima has also translated poems from Latin and written several treatises on Paracelsus, the sixteenth century alchemist and physician. She has expressed her opinions on poetics, politics, feminism, and the Beat generation in numerous interviews.


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Diane di Prima has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts (1973 and 1979) and an honorary degree from St. Lawrence University (1999). She was a finalist for poet laureate of San Francisco in 2002 and 2005 before becoming the city’s fifth laureate in 2009, and she was a finalist for poet laureate of California in 2003. She has garnered such honors as the Secret Six Medal of Valor (1987), the National Poetry Association lifetime service award (1993), the Aniello Lauri Award for creative writing (1994), the Fred Cody Award for lifetime achievement (2006), and the Reginald Lockett Lifetime Achievement Award (2008). As a female member of the Beat generation, she has had to labor under the stereotype of “Beat chick,” characterized by Jack Kerouac as girls “who say nothing and wear black.” The last decades of the twentieth century brought a gradual revision of this stereotype and greater recognition for her work. Although her poems have received little academic or critical attention, they have attracted a growing number of devoted readers.

George F. Butterick has argued that di Prima’s greatest contribution to the poetry of her generation lies in her work as an organizer and editor/publisher, beginning with her collaboration on The Floating Bear, a monthly publication she published together with her occasional lover LeRoi Jones (who later changed his name to Amiri Baraka) in 1961 and for which she served as editor until 1969. Also in the 1960’s, she founded Poets Press, which published some thirty books of poetry and prose of such well-known figures as Herbert Huncke and Timothy Leary, as well as the anti-Vietnam War anthology War Poems (1968), edited by di Prima herself.

Even though di Prima has often been described as a minor constellation next to stars of the Beat generation such as Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, and Gregory Corso, her mature work since the 1970’s deserves critical attention. She is an important catalyst and chronicler of the bohemian counterculture of her generation. For more than half a century, despite sweeping changes that have transformed society, di Prima has remained true to many of the central tenets of radical thought as established by the Beats: rejection of government propaganda, exploration of mental and physical sensations, spirituality, spontaneity, and hope for a world free of constraints.


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Charters, Ann. The Portable Sixties Reader. New York: Penguin Classics, 2003. An anthology featuring a collection of more than one hundred pieces: essays, poetry, and fiction from some of America’s outstanding writers of the decade, including works by di Prima. Provides perspective on the times.

Di Prima, Diane. “Diane di Prima.” http://dianediprima .com. Official Web site of di Prima lists her works, readings, reviews, and workshops. Also provides links to other informational sites.

_______. “Diane di Prima.” Interview by David Meltzer and Marina Lazzara. In San Francisco Beat: Talking with the Poets, edited by Meltzer. San Francisco: City Lights, 2001. In 1999, di Prima discusses her development as a poet, including an early commitment to poetry; her meetings with Beat poets such as Allen Ginsberg and Robert Duncan; her connection to Millbrook and Timothy Leary; her years in the San Francisco area and her involvement with the Diggers; and her discovery of Buddhism.

_______. “Pieces of a Song: Diane di Prima.” Interview by Tony Moffeit. In Breaking the Rule of Cool: Interviewing and Reading Women Beat Writers, edited by Nancy McCampbell Grace and Ronna Johnson. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2004. Di Prima discusses the influences on her writing, as well as the community of the Beat...

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